Of men and their demons : masculinity in Dostoevskii’s ‘Besy’

Title page of the 1890 edition of Dostoevskii's Besy (S756.d.89.28).

Title page of the 1890 edition of Dostoevskii’s Besy (S756.d.89.28).

The CamCREES bibliographical notes aim to link Cambridge library resources with the fortnightly seminars hosted by CamCREES (the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) in the Michaelmas and Lent terms of each academic year.  Each set of notes starts by looking at the specifics of a seminar and then goes on to explore related research tips and library issues; this latest set, for example, ends with a look at the problems of varying Russian transliteration in the world of electronic resources.  The CamCREES bibliographical notes were introduced in February 2011 on the University Library’s Slavonic webpages, where all earlier notes can be found.

The second CamCREES seminar of Michaelmas 2013, again part of Dr Katia Bowers’ CEELBAS-funded project ‘Promoting the Study of Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature in the UK’, was given by Dr Connor Doak of the University of Bristol.  His talk, ‘Of men and their demons : masculinity in Dostoevskii’s Besy’ looked at the characters in Dostoevskii’s novel (commonly translated into English as ‘The devils’ or ‘The demons’ or ‘The possessed’) about young radicals and their parents. Through close reading of selected passages, Dr Doak demonstrated how Besy ‘critiques both the sentimental men of the 1840s generation – presented as effete performers who have voluntarily renounced their manliness – and the radical men of the 1860s – presented as hypermasculine in their taste for violence’ (quotation from the talk’s abstract).

Dr Doak has kindly given us permission to reproduce the handout he used for the seminar.  This featured quotations from three sources: Michael S. Kimmel’s The history of men : essays in the history of American and British masculinities (244:1.c.200.862); the second edition of R.W. Connell’s Masculinities (196:2.c.200.403); and the text of Besy in the Nauka 1972-1990 Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (757:23.c.95.98-130), in the original and in Dr Doak’s translation.  The handout can be reached by clicking here.

The Library of Congress subject heading Masculinity is followed by more specific headings including Masculinity in literature.  It’s a popular subject, with several hundred items listed against it.  A keyword search for Russia masculinity literature came up with a surprising result: Putin as celebrity and cultural icon (Routledge, 2013).  As the book’s catalogue record (here) shows, the keyword search found two of these three terms in the record’s content notes.  Traditionally, catalogue records have rarely had contents notes although good practice in recent years would see contents listed for multi-volume sets.  Increasingly, though, even records for single-volume monographs have started to feature contents notes, as more and more data is made available electronically by publishers and vendors.

Tracking down a copy of Dostoevskii’s Besy in the catalogue is not straightforward.  For one thing, the authorised form of his name is the anglicised Dostoyevsky (the full form is: Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881) – which is not even the anglicised form in most common usage.  Secondly, a search for Besy will bring up many editions of the novel but not necessarily all.  When dealing with a major author like Dostoevskii, the Library is likely to have several sets of collected or selected works.  The point about contents notes made in the paragraph above is the issue here.  Without a contents note, the record for a set gives very little away about what the reader can find in it.  In the case of the Polnoe sobranie sochinenii Dr Doak refers to, the record as it stood was very basic, with only the title of the set and a collective title for it (in this case Works) – click here to see a screenshot of the record as was.  Now click here to see the record after it’s been expanded.  The contents note undeniably adds a huge amount of information which is useful and, critically, searchable.  A search for the term Besy will now bring up this set too.

One final observation about the spelling variations of Dostoevskii’s name.  The Library catalogue LibrarySearch+ has recently refocused to become a catalogue purely for electronic material – e-books, full-text articles, and citations.  While electronic availability is of course an enormous boon to the researcher, the lack of catalogue control (such as the addition by cataloguers of standard forms of name) in entries for articles means that searches need to be run often many times over to capture all the information out there. Taking the example of Dostoevskii, a search on LibrarySearch+ for three variant forms of his name brought up three very different results: Dostoyevsky – 15,427 hits; Dostoevsky – 26,671; Dostoevskii – 5,315.

– Mel Bach

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